September by the Caspian means fresh local fish cooked to perfection in tandoor ovens. Baku’s food columnist Natalia Golumb shares her favourite recipe for balig lavangi, or fish stuffed and baked with walnut
Locals and tourists alike love to enjoy the cooler weather of September by eating at the many fish restaurants that line the Caspian shore. Here, you can find a dish known as balig lavangi, a fish baked in a traditional tandoor oven.
However, you can also make this at home. The best, and juiciest fish, is a Caspian fish known as the kutum (a relative of the carp), but you can use any white fish of your choice, especially pike, perch or trout.
You will need:
For the fish:
1 medium-sized whole white fish, head on, cleaned
1-3 tablespoons pomegranate syrup
Salt and pepper
Fresh pomegranate for garnish (if available)
For the lavangi stuffing:
2 medium size red onions, finely grated
2 cups ground walnuts
8 tablespoons pomegranate syrup
1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper
To serve, lemon (traditionally) or lime as well as pomegranate syrup
Serves six to eight, depending on how hungry you are!
First, preheat your oven to 180C.
Now, prepare the stuffing by grating the onions (a food processor makes the job super easy). Then squeeze out as much of the liquid from the onions as you can (I suggest wrapping them in a tea towel and giving them a good squeeze). Put the onions in a bowl, and add the ground walnuts, salt, pepper and pomegranate syrup. Mix well, and set aside.
Then take the fish, and wash it well under cold, running water. Pat it dry, and then rub the fish all over with salt and pepper. Leave to rest.
Stuff the fish with as much of the lavangi stuffing as you can fit. Rub the outside of the fish with pomegranate syrup, then close up the belly of the fish with wooden toothpicks so that the stuffing doesn’t come out during cooking. Lay it on a pan lined with baking paper, and roast in the oven for 45 minutes, or until brown and crispy.
Once cooked, transfer the fish carefully to a serving plate, remove the toothpicks, and garnish with slices of lemon (or lime). You can also sprinkle it with pomegranate seeds to give it a pretty colour, if you wish.
I do like to eat this fish with rice – in particular rice wish sour cherries!
Serve it with chilled Chardonnay or even with a nice Pinot Noir wine and enjoy with friends.
Main image courtesy of Richard Haughton